August 9, 2016

Building Bears Can't Drift!? for Console Release

By Arran Langmead

Today, I’m looking at a game on the PlayStation Store and all I can think is, “How the hell did I do that!?“

Working as a games artist and Lecturer at Solent University, I’d heard enough stories to know that console development can be difficult, challenging or even impossible. Due to my NDA (non disclosure agreement) I’ll be choosing my words very carefully, but I hope to give you some insight into how I made and shipped a PS4 game entirely with Blueprints!

Some Background

I am no coder. I have always been more interested in the art side of games development, but when UE4 came out I caught the Blueprint bug. I don’t know if it's the dyslexic artist in me, but this tangled mess of coloured boxes makes sense and is infinitely more readable than the code it represents.

I kept experimenting with Blueprints, finding I could do more and more until I eventually ended up with a prototype based on the original OUYA version of the game. 

Original Prototype for Bear's Can't Drift!?

Working with the engine

Epic have built an amazing game development environment. The default projects work without error on PS4. Bears Can’t Drift!? was based on the third-person template, and while there were a few teething problems (which have long since been fixed by Epic), getting the game up and running on PS4 was far easier than I thought it was going to be.

In fact, the majority of issues I ran into with the console version of the game had (usually) already been fixed in the next update. Seemingly by magic, Epic stayed one step ahead of me throughout development. Submitting the game to Sony QA was a relatively painless process as well. None of the issues were with the game but instead the extraneous setup you need to do around it. It is a testament to the quality of Unreal Engine 4; to be able to build a game for PC and then port it to PS4 without error or re-configuration is a developer's dream.

Example of some of the shaders and environments created in UE4

Avoiding online like the plague

Online play would have added a substantial amount of work to the game's development, that much I knew, but it was the long list of conditions to the quality control process on console that put any idea of online play to bed. It’s a shame that online play is considered an essential ingredient by most gamers but the cost of implementation and regulations has a significant impact on a game's development.

Leveraging the Epic Staff as much as possible

You are never working on your own when making a game in Unreal Engine. When I first started to tackle getting Bears Can’t Drift!? on PS4, I didn't have a clue what I was doing (I even accidentally bought a PS4 test kit instead of dev kit!). I spent days trying to get my game to work using 4.6 and eventually went to the forums to ask for help. Within the hour an Epic staff member was helping me out. Far from being annoyed at me for blundering into console dev, he was really helpful and over a period of two-three days helped me get the game working. Things have changed dramatically since 4.6 and newer iterations of UE4 have fixed the problems I first ran into, making the whole process much smoother for anyone attempting to do the same things now. 

Working with Sony

Sony assume that you know what you are doing and that you have extensive experience in games development. I did not. This was my first commercial game, so there were many instances where I had assumed they would tell me what to do and they assumed I knew what to do. Sony have been in the console market for over 20 years, working with international developers and large corporations; then there is me. They have a vast knowledge base of games development, but the novice traveller is lost in their country. I needed a guide and a very good one at that. 

It was a tough learning experience for me, however here I am, Sony got me through the process. Sony, the massive corporation, the huge international business has worked with me, and now ‘Bears Can’t Drift’ is a reality. 

Bears Can’t Drift!? took longer to build than I ever intended it to. Over two years of development, 1,000s of hours of creating art, gameplay, UI, AI, t-shirts, websites, press packs, community support, digital distribution setup, console setup, a failed Kickstarter attempt, near bankruptcy, trailers, banners and countless mistakes all made for a game that takes up less than a gigabyte of space on a PS4.

I would do it all again, and will… just as soon as I have a lie down. 

You can find more information about Bears Can't Drift!? via the following links:

Twitter - @ArranLangmead





Screenshots and Trailer